Updated: Aug 25, 2022
These were the first images I received of our store one day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Rockport. The first one was sent to my mom from the daughter of a previous
renter of our building whom we had kept in contact with through the years. It was taken early that morning, although we didn't receive it til around lunchtime when they had left town to find electricity (and wifi!) By that time, my brother and dad had made it back into Rockport as they left early the morning after Harvey hit to assess the damages.
The second photo was taken by my dad.
We didn't know much, any updates on social media were cut off after the eye of the storm passed, and round 2 of hurricane harvey commenced. Wifi and electricity had been gone for many hours, and most of those still posting updates had used up their phone batteries, and we were left waiting.
When we received this photo, we didn't have any other information from my dad or brother. We knew when they left for town and knew about what time they should make it, but that was it. Somehow they were able to get just enough connection to send this photo to us.
Dad immediately put our pink shark back up that had ridden out the storm from inside the building. He put out our American flag, and my brother picked up some debris and a can of spray paint he found behind the shop from our storage shed that had lost all of it's walls, and quickly sprayed the signs you see in the photo. While they were sorting through debris, finding pieces that were ours and beginning clean-up, local RV park owner Lee Hanzalik and his wife drove by and snapped this photo. This would be one of the very first photos taken of the Rockport Strong sign, and you can see both my brother and dad on the left moving our antique fish sign back to our building.
From that photo, it didn't look so bad. You couldn't see the buildings on the left completely destroyed and collapsed, or the ones across the street. You couldn't see all the devastation. You saw our happy little building, our family business of 12 years that has brought us all so much joy & love, and of course--a bit of humor.
We've made jokes about "our ass" for years as our painted concrete donkey has been our store mascot for atleast 9 years. He survived the storm as well however the tip of his tail had broke a bit and he was laying on his side pushed out much further closer to the street. We've had people say his ears were lost in the storm, however this is not true. They were stolen a few years ago during one summer and were never returned, so now our donkey is often mistaken for a pony. He doesn't mind because now without his ears he doesn't have to hear all of our lame ass jokes.
This donkey is made of pure concrete, he is not easily moved. From my brother Brad, "The concrete donkey that took a 2×8 at 140mph right up the ass from Harvey, still stood there as the proud symbol of the community.
That is one tough ass."
While our donkey holds many precious memories & stories of his own, this story is really about the other sign. Rockport Strong.
We don't know where the board originally came from, we just know Harvey left it on our deck. It was falling apart when it was found, just a crappy piece of old plywood with chipping ivory paint. It's ragged and rough, and has seen much better days. My brother Brad is a great artist, however this day he just roughly spray painted the words. He wasn't trying to make it pretty, he just had a message to get across.
Then this sign started appearing on the news. FOX News posted it on their Instagram, CNN & The Weather Channel showed it on air during coverage of the storm. It was all over our local stations, as well as many others around Texas. Later, it was featured in an issue of LA Times and on the October cover of The Bend Magazine.
During the AMA's Kelly Clarkson & Pink sang a duet and ROCKPORT STRONG flashed behind them. When the Ellen Show featured a story & a 1 mill dollar donation to our local high school to rebuild, this old sign made an appearance as well. Just google "Rockport Strong" and look at the image results. It's become it's own icon. Yes, we know it's not pretty--but that's just it.
Hurricane Harvey wasn't pretty, what it did to our town wasn't pretty, but this little piece of debris came from something important--someone's home or someone's business--that was now totaled.
We opened our store just a week after Harvey hit, not to try to make money, but just to air out our store really. Although we have a lot of windows in front, none of them are meant to open. We didn't discover some of our leaks for a couple of weeks due to no electricity and no windows in some areas. So we would just come up during the day, open up the doors and hope for a breeze, and begin cleaning what we could. We'd take breaks on the picnic tables outside and watch as volunteers & locals took photos with our signs. They'd come by and chat for awhile as they took breaks, and some would ask if they could come inside. We'd warn them about no electricity and apologize for all of the mess, and they'd always dismiss it.
They would tell us they just wanted to see something halfway normal, and it was a nice break from all of the destruction around us. They'd offer us water, cleaning supplies and snacks. Would ask us if we needed anything else, and offered support.
We had many visit us in tears, they had just come back into town for the first time and were in utter shock. Lost their homes, their friends homes, places they had visited since they were kids, but they wanted a photo with that sign.
I can't tell you how many people I hugged by that sign, many strangers, many customers & friends. I can't tell you how many tears that sign saw in those first few weeks.
We still had no electricity but had taken pre-orders for our "Kiss our Ass Harvey" tees with our one eared donkey on them. When they arrived, we sat outside on deck with the tshirts in a box for customers to pick up locally. We shipped them all over the US. We donated the proceeds of those to several families and artist friends who had lost it all and to the Rockport Art Center.
We had a free clothing drive on deck not long after. One of my dear friends in New Braunfels had a boutique and had gathered donations of new and gently used women's clothing and shoes, and we laid it all out on deck and anyone was welcome to take what they needed.
On my birthday September 14 just a couple weeks after Harvey hit, we offered free cupcakes to the town of Rockport. Anyone was welcome to them. At that point, some people had electricity (I did at my home in Aransas Pass, but still not at the store) and it was truly the only way I wanted to spend my birthday, just hanging out with the people of the town I loved so very much. We shared stories, sweets and made plenty of new friends.
At the end of September, we put together a HARVEY SUCKS! benefit held at The Exchange in downtown Corpus Christi to help out local area artists. We had vendor booths with local artisans selling what goods they had left, local musicians, and just an all around fun time. We made lots of new friends, and it was a nice escape from what we'd been dealing with on our side of the bridge. To go into a restaurant and to order anything you wanted, no issues at all, to have electricity and see smiling faces. We had many Rockport locals join us and lots of Corpus folks came out to support us, it was a really fun night and I'm still in awe of how we pulled it off given the circumstances.
In October, we had Halloween by that sign. I dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow and we handed out candy & cookies to the kids. We did have electricity by this time, but business was slow so dressing up and handing out treats was our way to cope.
During our Christmas season, we had several events by that sign. Christmas in the District brought out our Grinch, and right before Christmas Elsa & Anna stopped by for another free cupcake event for the kids. It was a last minute event, planned in a span of just a week after reading the heartbreaking "Letters to Santa" feature in our local newspaper that year. Hearing so many little kids asking Santa Claus for their old homes back, for their parents to feel better and to not be sad, wishing they could go back to their old school and their friends. It broke my heart. It was the only thing I could think of to help. It turned out to be a very magical event, so many smiles while we danced for hours on the deck to Christmas songs and ate lots of sugary sweets.
I watched many friends & customers leave town to find home & jobs as we said goodbye and hugged for the last time by that sign. I saw my first Rockport snowfall by that sign.
Spring came and we hosted parties by that sign. We had some wonderful local musicians perform by that sign. We had a St. Patricks Day Party & a Cinco De Mayo Party by that sign.
I watched our business struggle terribly for the first time in 12 years. There has always been tough years or seasons, but we always made it out okay. Enough to get to the next season at least. This time, we were pulling straws. We continued on every day, driving up to that sign with renewed hope each time that tomorrow would be better.
Then one day the sign was gone.
It was stolen on a Tuesday afternoon in broad daylight, one of the days we are closed. The business next to us & across from us were open however, and we even found photos from that afternoon of families enjoying their afternoon and taking a break on our picnic tables & even had a few photos with the sign before it was taken. Whoever took it was not afraid of being caught, and the few people who witnessed it being taken assumed & trusted they were employees working on the building.
I posted a plea on Facebook for the return of our sign, I made one little post not expecting much from it, thinking our sign was gone forever and what had this world come to. I posted to vent. I was mad and devastated. it was made by my brother & dad and was a symbol of hope for myself and my family and I so desperately wanted it back, but did not have much hope. Boy was I wrong. I truly did not expect what happened next.
The post exploded.
When I say I love this town, I mean I REALLY love this town and it's people. We received so many photos & messages with support, love, photos, and stories of what this sign meant to them. It was, and still is, unbelievable to think that this ratty old sign could mean SO MUCH to all of us. It's not a pretty sign by any means, but that's just it. What we went through during, and after, and even now almost a year after Harvey has not been pretty. But it's a symbol of perseverance, of being bent and battered, but not broken. So many people stopped in the store to wish us well and share their stories and to give us hope.
The story of our sign was aired on 3 different local new stations that I know of, made an appearance in a San Antonio newspaper and one the website of a Houston paper as well. The sign was making news again! Soon, we received photos & more details from the day it was stolen. We had hope! Someone had to have seen this person! Other local businesses stepped up and began to offer a reward, Rock Bottom Park and Pub posted a cash reward to help us out, we had so many people sharing our posts, on the look out for the sign. We filed a police report, and did what we could. I posted updates on the description of our thief, a timeline of events from the day, and I began plans for a new sign, just in case. By that time, we had eye witnesses, we knew our thief was male, we knew what he was wearing (khaki shorts and coral shirt), and we knew he had returned twice. He tried to take it once, was unsuccessful, and came back and took it the second time. We knew he had used our picnic table as a ladder. We were on to him.
One of our long time customer's granddaughter Izzy (featured up to with the cupcakes from my birthday) had even made us a sign out of paper. She cut the shape out herself and had her Gigi write "ROCKPORT STRONG"
She told her Gigi "someone is going to be so happy to receive this!" and they dropped it into our mail slot.
Later that day, she and her Gigi stopped by and Izzy gave us handpicked flowers and we talked about the sign. Izzy later told me "Maybe the man who took it just borrowed it for a little while. Maybe he thought his house was called Rowdy Maui."
Friday morning I received a message from a local woman who believed she had spotted our sign. Brandi had been dropping her kids off at a summer art camp just down the street from our store and had turned on a side street when she found it. It was propped up between two downtown businesses in a little alleyway next to Winery on the Bay plain as day, and in one piece. Brandi sent me photos to verify it was the right one, and she so kindly walked it back down to our store for us until I could get there.
Of course, this was on a sunny mid-morning in June and we are located directly next to a popular coffee shop The Daily Grind, and Brandi did not go unnoticed. Immediately I started receiving calls & messages from people who had spotted her, we had a few people call us concerned thinking they had spotted the thief returning (to which we told them NO she's our new hero!) so I hopped on Facebook live for a quick update to let everyone know it was BACK and to thank Brandi. To be honest, I was a bit scared for Brandi that morning. Tensions and emotions were running very high regarding that sign, and I hated to think her good deed returning it was being mistaken as her being the thief. Marsha & Dawn, the owners of the downtown boutique Tres Chic N Sassy and Ashley of Bay Window even stopped by on their way to opening shop and guarded the sign until we could arrive!
In the excitement of it all, I had forgotten my brother was bringing up a 'temporary' sign he had spray painted the night before. He had propped it on the side and I had noticed walking past it there was a piece of paper tacked to it, but it was such a busy, eventful, exciting day that I had totally forgotten to go back and check. We were interviewed again for the local news and had so many well-wishers stop in to tell us how happy they were to see the sign out front again.
It wasn't until the next morning when I realized the note was still tacked to Brad's sign, so I grabbed it thinking it was something silly my brother had left, but was surprised to find a hand written apology letter.
So sorry or my poor judgement and the grief and aguish I have caused you and the community. I know that it was wrong to take the sign, but I had no idea the impact it would have. Again I apologize and I have learned my lesson. It will never happen again.
Rockport Strong 4 Ever..."
The sign was in one piece, but had been signed in the bottom corner "6-18 xo Dad"
I will probably never know who took our sign, but I thank them for bringing it back and for the apology. We forgive, but won't forget and to be honest, I had no idea the impact the sign would have on our community either. Bu thanks 'xo dad' for reminding me of how much I truly love this town, and it's people.
Now, the sign is back up in it's rightful place to be enjoyed by everyone again. My plan for a new sign will continue however. Since this sign has brought so many of us together, and it means to much to each and every one of us, I want the new sign to be about just that.
We're creating a huge community collage featuring all of YOUR photos with our sign. They can be from right after the storm, or from today. It doesn't matter, we want them! We will display this sign proudly next to the original sign to show all of our locals & visitors just how much one little thing can bring together so many, and what it really means to be Rockport Strong.
I've said it a hundred times and I'll say it a hundred more--I love this town & it's people.
**This post was originally published on June 28, 2018 after the sign was stolen and returned. I've updated it each year as people have sent them in to me. I'll continue to update as we continue to receive more stories and pictures from the Harvey-era. The Rockport Strong community collage is on display inside our store with a link to this blog so we can continue to share our stories and the impact this storm had on our community.**